23 Jan 2011
“At once they left their nets and followed [Jesus].” (Matt. 4:20) In the name …
So last weekend I was asked to help out a little bit with the spaghetti supper fundraiser that the Frontier basketball teams were putting-on. For a bit they placed me in charge of passing out the drinks of soda and water. The players from the boys and girls basketball teams were the waiters. They would come into the kitchen, pick up their dinner orders and then tell me what drinks they needed. The kids are coming and going, and there are also some parents hanging around in the kitchen. There were a couple of jokes from the adults about whether or not I had anything a bit stronger than water or soda hidden behind my counter. With some of the kids around I mentioned in reply that I didn’t, but that I had to be very careful so that I didn’t accidentally turn the water into wine. The adults seemed to get the joke and the biblical allusion to Jesus’ miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, but the kids had no idea.
Now just imagine how many people would be here at Mass today if I really could have changed those bottles of water into wine at the spaghetti supper. That would come across, I think, as a pretty good invitation to check things out here at Holy Name of Jesus. With this in mind, let us return to this morning’s Gospel reading. Today we hear about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He had just been baptized by John in the Jordan River, and spent His 40 days out in the wilderness sorting through all of the complicated issues that must have flooded His thoughts when it was revealed to Him from heaven: “‘This is my beloved Son.’” After this time alone, Jesus returns to Galilee, His hometown region. He is now finally ready to go public with His ministry. And the first thing He does is invite two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew and James and John, to follow Him, to become the core group around which His ministry will form and function. “‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men,’” He says to these fishermen. And immediately the four leave their jobs and their lives behind, and they follow Jesus.
Why? And for that matter what exactly did the invitation mean? We hearing it today place it in the context of all that would follow in Jesus’ life and that of the earliest church. We know today that Christ and Church go out into the world and invite people to believe. But those first four guys didn’t know this yet. Their Jewish faith was not an evangelistic one. Its primary intention was not to convert others to the faith. Especially 2000 years ago, a person was basically born into the Jewish religion. Or think about the contemporary example of John the Baptist. He preached to the masses, but they had to come to him. John didn’t go walking through the land proclaiming his message, looking for converts. It was up to the people to find him. So again, what did Peter, Andrew, James and John think it meant when Jesus invites them to become fishers of men instead of fishermen? Again, why did they follow?
The Bible leaves us wondering. We don’t know the reason why they responded or even what they expected from Jesus. And I wonder if this is intentional on Matthew’s part, if this vagueness is not part of the Gospel message to us this morning. There has been no miracle performed by Jesus at this point of the story. No water turned into wine, if you will. There’s nothing extraordinary compelling them to believe and to follow. There’s only Jesus’ words of invitation. This open-ended and ambiguous story of Jesus’ call is shockingly ordinary. Maybe that’s because it’s not supposed to tell us exactly how or why these four men got up and followed Jesus. Maybe the particulars are for them and for them alone. Maybe it’s supposed to make us here this morning more aware of our ordinary invitation to follow Jesus.
I don’t think “become fishers of men” made a lot of sense to the first four disciples as they sat in their boats, but eventually it would. And maybe that’s a part of the message for us too. Invitation is just a starting point. Faith, however, is our journey to know Christ ever better. Maybe when we start at faith, maybe we don’t know exactly why we follow. Maybe jokes about water into wine don’t make any sense at all. Maybe church doesn’t make a lot of sense to us when we first start out. Maybe we follow, but we don’t know exactly why. And maybe the goal of faith is to answer that question. Maybe that’s why the New Testament’s first story of invitation is so open-ended.
This past Monday I gathered with some 25 hundred other people to pay final respects to a fine young man, Jamie Kotula, of Scranton. He was a few days shy of his 17th birthday when he died in a car accident, but in those brief years Jamie touched literally thousands of people. It took us two hours to get to say a prayer at Jamie’s casket on the evening of his wake. The girls I drove down to Scranton joined other youth group members by holding a candle as Jamie’s body was carried from church at the end of his funeral. There were over 200 hundred fellow students at the funeral from his high school. There were so many people at the Mass that the overflow filled the chapel downstairs at the Cathedral and spilled out into the auditorium. Why did we all come? It wasn’t just because of our memories of a boy who always smiled because so many spoke of Jamie as still being aware of them. The kids actually wrote letters to Jamie and those were collected and put into an album for Jamie. The adults, and especially the youth, didn’t come to that church just to remember Jamie. They came because of some maybe not fully defined hope that there is more to life than what we see and study. This hope may not be all fleshed out theologically, but it’s there. And when it’s most needed it’s real. Maybe we don’t always know why we accept the invitation of faith or even what to expect from it, and maybe that’s part of today’s Gospel story, but there’s always the hope that questions will turn into answers once we keep believing and that faith will be real when we most need it. And all of this begins with Jesus’ invitation to “Come after me.” We may not yet know to what destination, but let us pray that we follow nonetheless in the hope that questions will turn into answers. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo